IF YOU think that competition in the automobile business is decreasing, you should visit the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
There were too many new model introductions to count. Every company that is going to survive in the next century - and some that won't - showed prototypes or preproduction vehicles, or simply made Detroit the place to introduce their new models.
Unfortunately, the press days were hampered by a blizzard that curtailed air traffic for days throughout the Midwest. In spite of the snow and the bad weather, thousands of newspeople from all over the world attended the Detroit show. It rapidly is becoming one of those 'must-attend' automotive activities.
And the number of international automotive executives grows every year. A decade ago, you didn't see a lot of automobile folks from outside the USA at the Detroit auto show. Today, it seems that just about everyone in the car business spends a day or two in Detroit.
All the talk was about product and branding. Not everyone agrees on just what brand management is all about, but everyone realizes that the brand is a very important ingredient of a successful marque. There is still a great deal of disagreement as to what constitutes a brand. Is it the car line, the model or both? You'll get as many opinions as you have marques.
But if you ever had any doubt, Detroit certainly proves, once again, that the product is king. There were more introductions than ever before. All the car companies understand just how important it is to create excitement for products.
Certainly the introduction of new models that will be on sale in a matter of months is just as exciting as the revelation of prototypes that are nothing more than thinly disguised production vehicles that might be a year or two away. Everyone had something to display. And that made it a very exciting auto show.
DaimlerChrysler is the other big issue that auto people wanted to discuss. They are trying to decide who's winning and who's losing. It doesn't seem to matter how much the folks from Mercedes and Chrysler keep saying this is a merger, not a takeover. People are still trying to figure out who's going to come out on top. Chances are pretty good that three years from now, it's going to be a combination of folks from Auburn Hills and Stuttgart.
Detroit has come a very long way since the reincarnation of its motor show a little more than a decade ago. And in spite of the holidays, the snow and the cold, it was definitely the place to be after New Year's Eve. It was a great way to start the year.